Welcome to the Answer-Man’s Quick and Dirty Reviews.
Today, we’re going to be welcoming a new star into the superhero comic firmament created by a publishing house called Lion Forge Comics. No strangers to comic publishing, Lion Forge has an impressive lineup of publications including the well-received, Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven graphic novel penned by Eisner-nominated writer, Brandon Easton.
I can see big things in their future starting with a new comic line called Catalyst Prime. One of their cornerstones is Noble #1 which came out yesterday.
As The Answer-Man, a seeker of cosmic truths buried in the pasts of comic Universes, I came upon a serious dilemma: What can I say about a comic universe that has no previous information for me to draw upon? How long has it been since I had sat down to a comic with no history, no familiar characters, no retcons to remember, no factoids to draw upon?
How long has it been since I’d seen a completely new Universe filled with characters that weren’t evil parallel world iterations of themselves or watched famous heroes engaged in random, event-driven hero versus hero conflicts I would have to struggle to care about?
When was the last time I looked at a superhero comic tabla rasa, letting it unfold before me, in real time, where I absorb every frame, every page, seeking to fill a gap I only know is missing when I see it?
When was the last time I opened a comic and got to see a Black man who was heroic? A Black man who struggled, who fought, who sought to understand, who knew the value of restraint, and did not start his career as a criminal or a sidekick, but as an explorer and adventurer? Think about it for yourselves.
Go ahead. I’ll wait. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Well, Citizen, your wait is over. Here is your chance to get in on the ground floor of a brand new Universe, doing something that hasn’t been done on this scale since Milestone Comics (which I am still waiting for their return to the fray — any day now gentlemen…)
Without further ado, I want to introduce the excellent work of Lion Forge Comics and their Catalyst Prime Universe.
Headed by Joe Illidge whose work on DC’s Batman: No Man’s Land has cemented his name in comic history. Not content to rest on his laurels, Mr. Illidge has decided since the Big Two have difficulties creating heroic, significant characters of color, it would be up to his diverse team of creators to do the work they would not.
This is significant because the Catalyst Prime books have a diverse bullpen and are diverse characters, created by diverse writers. Something the Big 2 say they simply can’t find what they need on the open market. Not buying that, are you? Me, neither.
The first book in their new Universe is called Noble. The sales summary gives a succinct overview of the book.
“One year after “The Event” missing astronaut David Powell has resurfaced, with dangerous new abilities and no memory of the man he once was. While desperately trying to regain his identity, David quickly finds himself a man on the run from shadowy forces as well as his forgotten past.”
The writing was done by Brandon Thomas, known for his work in the Horizon saga, a science fiction graphic novel of alien invasion (and a personal favorite) and Marvel’s Civil War II: Choosing Sides. The art duties are handled by a Roger Robinson (Batman: Gotham Knights and Solo Avengers). Colors by Juan Fernandez. The cover duties were handled by Roger Robinson, though there are three other variant covers.
Since I knew nothing starting out (gasp!) I didn’t expect a single book to teach me too much right away. In fact, the story seems to consider that as well, so we are dropped into the worst day in the life of a woman named Astrid Allen-Powell who is awaiting bad news in a hospital. Sure enough, sad news is delivered but we are never told who has passed away. A mystery I’m certain we’ll get back to.
Robinson’s layouts are cinematographic, panning, zooming, and focusing on a wedding ring in a early frames of the book, increasing the foreboding in a subtle but appreciable way. Starting the story off in the past, with a number of tragedies, both personal and worldwide sets the tone and unlike most stories starting with a bang, this one instead starts with a whimper.
Not to worry, the bang is coming. The scene changes and we are in Argentina about to get our first glimpse of who we assume will be our protagonist, David Powell (presumed dead) who is working under an assumed name, Julian Brass.
Brass is fighting for his freedom from unknown assailants who seem handicapped by their need to bring him in alive. One of the scenes reminded me of the Rodney King beating and feel confident this was not an accident.
But this was NOT that beating. What we see next is our protagonist using his powers, characterized by a blue-white discharge, which is presumably visible to others. His abilities are impressive but quite reasonable, he looks as if he will have some room to grow and develop those powers. Julian Brass’ hand to hand skills are quite formidable and coupled with his “telekinetic” (until someone defines them specifically in the series) abilities he holds his own nicely.
The visual energy of the book shifts during the combat scenes and the page layout changes showing a more out of control feel, the change is elegant and we are given a glorious two page spread, I expect to make the rounds on the Internet.
I didn’t give enough respect to the colorist either. I never felt overwhelmed nor underwhelmed by the color palette Juan Fernandez laid out. The color choices felt organic and well-structured. They complemented the manga-esque fight scenes perfectly.
Julian Brass acquits himself well but in the next few pages we will watch as our hero appears challenged to understand the depth and capacity of his powers. Any landing you can limp away from is a good one, right?
The rest of the issue continues the attempted abduction and the reveal of a second metahuman, strong enough to lift a jeep with a bit of strain over his head. Brass and the Strong Man mix it up with Brass coming up short.
But here’s where we begin to understand him. We don’t know why he’s running. We know the people where he is living respect him, the enemy chasing him fears him but fears their employer more. Brass has no idea who they are or what they want.
We do know this: Brass never stops fighting. Subdued twice now we watch him turn the tables on his attackers well enough to escape. And he did it with style.
I don’t know who Julian Brass is, or where he came from. I only know this for certain. I want to know where he’s going. I want to know why he’s wearing this strange face mask. Is he hiding his identity? If so, why? Or does this helmet have something to do with his mental powers? Is it a focus or a shield?
And what’s with the weird flashbacks in the middle of the fight? Fella, keep your head in the game…
So many questions, so little time. It seemed just as I was starting to get comfortable with Mr. Brass, the book ends on a bizarre twist. Remember Astrid Allen-Powell, who we met in the beginning of the book? I told you it was complicated.
Did I like this book? Yes.
There was enough mystery to set up the story, enough action and cool feats to appease the fanboy in me.
Would I recommend this book? Hell, yes!
As a first printing of a new comic series from a new comic provider, the quality of the work, the art, the story, the colors are all high-grade professional work. A solid knock-out punch.
Rating 5 out of 5.
Noble is damn good, its not perfect, but I believe its because the book is starting conservatively, giving the team an opportunity to gel, to become a better-integrated team. I suspect once I get some background, some history, a few more feats for my Rolodex, I am going to shout to the heavens just how good this book is.
The book comes in a print and online Comixology options. If you can’t get it where you live, get your distributor to consider adding it to their store lineup. If the rest of the Catalyst Prime Universe is this well-structured, this may be the beginning of a new golden age of comics, where new writers with new voices, step out of the shadow of the mainstream comic industry, creating new heroes of color for a new age.
Catalyst Prime is a chance for my kids to see themselves reflected in the narrative storytelling art, I love so well.. Not a funhouse mirror, either. One where they can see themselves in a heroic light. Thank you Joe and Crew. Keep it up and you’re going to make me think comics can save the world again.
Feels good, don’t it? Damn right.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.